If there's one thing KidSyc hopes you take away from his music, it's this: To thine own self be true.
"Don't let somebody else's opinion - whether it's wrong, right, cool, stupid or whatever - affect what you're passionate about," advises the 26-year-old rapper.
"Embrace going against the grain, not being the same as everybody else. Explore who you are, not being afraid to be a little quirky or have people look at you a little weird. For the sake of what you know is in your heart."
KidSyc, whose real name is Lloyd Harold, is a working example of this philosophy's success. He is a facilitator at AWOL, the Savannah group dedicated to keeping young people out of trouble by involving them in the arts. For three years, he taught visual art at Pooler Elementary.
Born in Atlanta, Harold spent his formative years at a progressive elementary school in Minneapolis. "I assumed every kid went to a school like that," he says. "I thought everybody had to take a stringed instrument till they got to 6th grade. I never learned how to read music, but I knew where my fingers belonged and things like that.
"We had two weeks on each instrument. We had the ukulele, keys, trombone, just get little snippets of stuff, you know? It was really dope. I couldn't imagine not having that piece of my life."
With afterschool art, theater and music programs, he received a well-rounded education in creativity.
Which is, he says, why AWOL is the perfect fit for him. "I guess it's my turn to take that and give it back," he muses. "Keep the cycle going."
As KidSyc, he fronts the band Brandywine, which pushes the hip hop envelope by combining Harold's rat-a-tat emcee skills with live music. It's organic, it lives and it breathes, and there aren't too many acts who can pull it off.
On Jan. 7, KidSyc@Brandywine will unveil a five-song CD, The Capitol Records Sessions, with a show at Congress Street Social Club. Recorded over 48 hours last March at Capitol's famed Studio B in Los Angeles, the CD was the grand prize in the 2011 Georgia Lottery All Access Music Search. KidSyc@Brandywine won in the hip hop category.
The songs - "Smile," "I Don't Care," "Ask Them," "No Speaky" and "Get It" - are joint compositions, with Harold providing the lyrical content.
From "I Don't Care":
She said it was the same thing every day
Wish there was a way to make the eighth grade pass a little faster
‘Cause the slap in the face will hurt less than the words that made her feel like she was lower than dirt
Certain things she couldn't change
But her peers couldn't accept it
So her feelings were hurt
Words with just enough in ‘em to kill her self-worth
The 13-year-old girl in the song learns to journal her feelings of alienation, and subsequently declares
I don't care what you say
I don't care what you say
They say I'm oh so different
I'm like, I know I'm different
That's why I'm so terrific
"A lot of it came from those three years I spent teaching," Harold explains. "Especially as an art teacher, you get to see a child's imagination at work. You get to mold that, or nudge it in a certain direction - you say ‘You're really good at this, and you'll probably be really good at this. And all I need to do is get you from Point A to Point B. And make it interesting along the way.'"
He'd already been making rhymes and beats and cutting mix tapes, but teaching "kind of shifted my perspective, with what I was talking about. Cutting out the fat, with arbitrary songs, the overly braggadocio songs, getting to the content of what I'm really trying to talk about."
"I think I've kind of strayed away from trying to paint a picture of me as a ladies' man or something. It just doesn't feel natural."
But will it be successful in a world of rap songs that sometimes glorify the "ladies' man" - or things like the so-called thug life? The back alleys of the music business are littered with hip hop artists who tried to spread nothing but positivity and never got any sort of street cred.
"I think about that a lot," Harold says. "You hear the stuff that becomes more popular and it's almost like ‘Am I shooting myself in the foot trying to spread a message, quote-unquote?'
"I look at it like this: I've been given maybe the same type of super power these other guys have. There are certain rappers that you could see as heroes, folks that are kinda poor, the good-guy side. And there are other people that are spreading something that, even though it might be subtle, is really like poison.
"If you listen to this stuff every day, you let it sink in, and you act on the things that you hear in the lyrics, it leads to this poisonous, not joy-filled type of lifestyle. It feels good for the moment, but it's overly negative."
He points to "You Got Me," the hit by the Roots with Erykah Badu, which laid a plain-spoken rap over a hypnotic, jazzy bed of music. "That wasn't supposed to be a commercially successful song, but so many people gravitated to what was being said.
"I think that making music without having that in mind - both lyrically and musically - is what makes us who we are. That's what keeps us from going that washing-down, selling-out mode."
Anyway, he has no interest in chasing success if it means cheapening his belief system. "I've accepted the fact that if we have a song that's really radio commercially successful, it's not going to be because we tried," he says. "It's gonna be because there's something underlying in the song that strikes a chord with people."
Harold's felt pretty much the same since he arrived in Savannah, as a SCAD freshman studying sequential art and sound design, in 2002. He took poetry classes, too, in order to boost his feel for syntax and cadence.
His first band, Soul Essential, combined rap with live music. When the group ended, Harold went looking for other musicians who wanted more than DJs, electronically processed beats and a sequencer.
He met Lane Gardner, Charles Hodge and Dan Butler - keyboards, bass and guitar, respectively.
"We'd been playing together forever and we were getting tired of playing rock," Gardner says. "So we decided to try hip hop and see what would happen. We figured the first thing to do was get in contact with somebody who was already in the scene."
Once they were introduced to Harold, all the tumblers clicked into place. Derrick Larry became the band's drummer.
"I can only speak for myself," offers Gardner, "but I'm tired of going to see just a guy onstage. It's cool but it's very one-dimensional.
"That's not true all the way around, but in hip hop there's something to be said for pushing the grain because nobody does it. Nobody really tries."
Brandywine creates sinewy and multi-hued musical backdrops for their lyrical frontman. They call it "living hip hop."
Dynamic, focused and well-recorded, The Capitol Records Sessions is an impressive sampler of the magic they make together.
"I think it's going to make us look official," Harold says. "We'll feel a lot better about the product that we're giving people, knowing that it's the real deal. Going out of town now, we'll make a bigger impression on people. They'll be going ‘These guys are all about it. Why aren't they signed?'
"I feel like we've arrived at the next step. This is the next chapter, and it only gets better from here."
CD Release Party
Where: Congress Street Social Club, 411 W. Congress St.
When: At 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7